Facing the Schools Question in St-Pierre-Jolys

Since I started paying attention to the Manitoba Mennonite story, I’ve learned about the “Manitoba Schools Question”. This whole time I kinda felt like it was all about quashing the Mennonite culture… probably because like any good Mennonite, I’m rather myopic.


This past weekend, Andrew and I visited the museum in St-Pierre-Jolys. Stepping into a room set up as a classroom, I found myself learning about the French-Catholic perspective of the Manitoba Schools Question. 

The “Rights Recognized, Rights Denied” exhibit features a chronological exploration of how this whole thing played out, from the French-Catholic side of things. In 1870, these religious schools were allowed to exist. This is the same kind of legislation that lured the Mennonites here, thinking they would be able to educate their children in the Low German language.

However, by 1890, there was no longer any funding for private religious schools. Twenty-six years later in 1916, it became outright illegal to teach in any language other than English. These changes affected both French Catholics and Mennonites here in Manitoba (in addition to other groups: Polish, Ukrainian… probably others, I have lots to learn).

Yesterday morning I read (in Preservings no.8, June 1996, the “Education” issue) about how most Mennonite groups continued to resist the Anglicization of their schools. By 1919, “the topic of fines, imprisonments, and property seizures which were imposed against the Mennonites during this period would fill a book…”

Fill a book. 

Has anyone written such a book yet? 

Also… has anyone written such a book from the French-Catholic perspective?

I’d like to see a book that was half Mennonite, half French-Catholic on this question.

I feel like by sharing both perspectives within the same book, it might reveal more about the government and the world at that time. 

These two groups were in the same place, at the same time, facing the same problem.

At the time that the Canadian government instituted English-only public schools, a world war was being waged. Folks were being shipped all over the world, interacting as never before… being introduced to new diseases and unwittingly carrying these diseases to their various home countries… which triggered a pandemic which killed yet another massive amount of the global population. 

In the midst of this, Mennonites with pacifist ideals and Low German language seemed a little too much like “the enemy”, so the government stepped in. 

I’m not sure how the French-Catholic schools were perceived by the government during this time. (This was before the French language became an official language of Canada.)

Left: Crow Wing Trail next to the museum in St-Pierre-Jolys. Right: the century-old Goulet House on the museum grounds.

See? This is why I’d love a “compare and contrast” book on the subject. 

One that would include aggressively juicy details, like the fact the government called the new public school in Grunthal “Aldershot”, named for an army training base. The Preservings article says this was perceived to be a slur against the pacifist community, and apparently there was pushback which resulted in the name being changed to Goodwill in 1921. 

I wonder, what were the stories of pushback and reaction from the French-Catholic community? 

Super-delicious food at J’em Bistro, which is on the main floor of the Museum in St-Pierre-Jolys. We absolutely will be back.

More to learn, more to learn.

I hope you’ve also enjoyed some of my pictures from our experience at the museum. It’s a wonderful place to visit! Beautiful grounds, lots of history, terrific restaurant, lovely historic trail.


A Quick Visit to the Musee St-Pierre-Jolys